Running versus weight-lifting: Which is better for improving mood?

Many runners experience the phenomenon called “runner’s high”, which is caused by a surge of endorphins in the brain, the body’s “feel good” chemicals.

Some weight-lifters may experience something similar, but is it as strong as runner’s high? Does it improve mood to the same degree as running?

According to researchers at Appalachian State University, Boone, NC 28608, in the study, Effects of running and other activities on moods:


The purpose of this study was to compare the moods and mood variations of runners to those of aerobic dancers, weight-lifters, and nonexercising controls. The subjects, 70 undergraduates, were participants in a jogging and conditioning, a weight training, an aerobic dance, or an introductory psychology class. A time-series design was used in which all participants completed eight Profile of Mood State questionnaires over a 6-hr. period that centered on the time of the class. Four questionnaires were completed during the second week of classes and the other four about midsemester, approximately 6 wk. later. Runners had a significantly more positive mood profile than nonexercisers and a somewhat more positive one than weight-lifters, but those of runners and aerobic dancers were similar. Changes in moods across time in relation to activity and across semester suggest that exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, helps the regular participant not only to cope with stress but also to have a generally more positive feeling of well-being.

Interestingly, the aerobic dancers were similar to runners in terms of mood. I gotta admit that I usually find strength-training dull compared to running, and so this study didn’t surprise me. The results of this study imply cardio in general is probably better at improving mood than strength-training. My own experience confirms this.

8 responses to “Running versus weight-lifting: Which is better for improving mood?

  1. This does not surprise me either – I am currently on an enforced running break due to injury so been doing strength training instead and it is of no comparison to the mood boosting abilities of running! 😦

    • I can relate. I usually have to put on music or even a movie/documentary to help me get through strength training sessions. Or sometimes I count reps in different languages to make it more interesting. What kind of injury do you have? I hope it heals very soon and you’ll be back to running just like before. While not as fun as running, strength training is still absolutely necessary for runners. I hope you are cross training(running, cycling, swimming) with another cardio exercise to maintain your aerobic fitness to make it easier for you when you return to running. Take good care of yourself, we need more super-cool veggie runners like you!

      • I twisted my knee a few weeks back, and the impact of running makes it hurt so giving it a rest for now. I am indeed cross training – I have discovered a new love for cycling, namely mountain biking, which is a great interval trainer (lots of hills where I live near the Cotswolds) but doesn’t appear to affect my knee at all. I am guilty of neglecting strength training when I am running a lot… Hopefully back to my running self soon!

      • Wild Juggler

        I hope your knee heals very soon. I learned the hard way the benefits of strength-training, since I tended to injure myself more when not strength-training. Now I do it twice a week, for about 15 to 20 minutes.

        Near the Cotswolds? That is awesome! I would so love to run or bike through there. Are you near Bibury? I’ve been through the Cotswolds and Bibury multiple times on Google Earth, its so picturesque. Take care.

  2. FWIW, we now know that it’s endocannabinoids, not endorphins that cause the runner’s high.

  3. It would be great to see the whole study, and if it wasn’t so old (1988), but from the abstract this looks very compelling to me. And my own experiences with outdoor cardio activities (such as kayaking or mountaineering) compared with those few occasions with weights certainly match up too!

    • Thank you for your comments Miss Jessica. It seems the less often I do strength-training, the more “high” I get from it. A little more often and it becomes so boring.

      Occasionally I may try incorporating strength-training into the cardio I do, by juggling heavy balls while running. While I get really high doing this, it is so very tiring. I think the high is even better than just plain cardio, but it can take days to recover from something like this. Like you, I would like to see the whole study too. Do drop by again, Miss Jessica!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s